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Portland Cello Project records complete 'Song Reader' by Beck

By Mikael Wood

6:45 PM EST, January 3, 2013

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As Times pop music critic Randall Roberts wrote earlier this week, much of the fun of Beck's new "Song Reader" project -- 20 songs released not as recordings, but as old-fashioned sheet music -- is beholding the variety of interpretations it's inspired.

Hundreds of renditions of tunes from the set have been collected at songreader.net, where you can download the music for Beck's "Old Shanghai" for the price of your email address; countless more are available across SoundCloud and YouTube.

Yet for listeners disinclined toward the hunt-and-gather thing, the Portland Cello Project has recorded a complete version of "Song Reader" with help from guests including Jolie Holland and the Decemberists' Nate Query.

Does the group's tidy chamber-folk approach lack some of the flavor you'll find online? It does. But the recording also makes it easier to hear where Beck's head is at the moment, an always-welcome service.

Stream the first selection, "Don't Act Like Your Heart Isn't Hard," below, and visit NPR to hear the entire thing.

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